The new Corrosion of Conformity album is a huge deal in metal and hard rock circles since it marks the long-awaited return of the Raleigh, NC veterans’ prodigal son, Pepper Keenan. After spending a number of years revisiting their hardcore/punk roots as a trio before rhythm guitarist/lead vocalist Keenan re-joined for multiple tours, Corrosion of Conformity have written a record that harks back to their golden Deliverance and Wiseblood days, with the added doom-laden lurches of Keenan’s last LP with the band, 2005’s In the Arms of God.
Titled No Cross No Crown, the forthcoming full-length—Corrosion of Conformity’s ninth studio release since Eye for an Eye in 1984—is the sound of an influential act brimming with creative energy. Rounded out by founding members Woody Weatherman on lead guitar and backing vocals, Mike Dean on bass, and Reed Mullin on drums and percussion (his first album with Keenan since 2000’s America’s Volume Dealer), the chemistry between these long-time friends has never been in question; but with age, you’d expect the fire in their bellies to have resided somewhat. While No Cross No Crown spans a spectrum of emotions, it’s not short on outward rage, lyrically and musically. You can feel it once “The Luddite” hurtles forth with the kind of metallic bluster normally expected from contemporary heavyweights like High on Fire.
Comprised of snarling sludge riffs, booming vocals from a riled Keenan and a bluesy solo from Weatherman, “The Luddite” is one of the heaviest Corrosion of Conformity songs to date—a startling opener following the mood-setting “Novus Deus”. Its sheer sonic clout may not be replicated for the remainder of the album but closer “A Quest to Believe (A Call to the Void)”—a Saint Vitus-worthy doom-crawler spanning six minutes—comes near. Its riffs are bruising, slow and immovable. “The hour is upon you / There is no reprieve!” warns Keenan, the traditions of the subgenre upheld with such despondent lyricism.
Keenan’s bearing on the songwriting cannot be underestimated here. He brings the Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Thin Lizzy influences back to the fore, the amalgamation of which made Deliverance, their 1994 Capitol debut, a massive success in every sense. “Cast the First Stone” is an energetic Corrosion of Conformity-rocker with plenty of low-end; indicative of the album as a whole, Keenan’s vocals are catchy yet commanding. After a barrelling start, the song breaks into a chugging build with cascading fills, and the tasty solo which follows is all feel from Weatherman. The ominous instrumental, “No Cross” is used as a segue into the Sabbath/Skynyrd-isms of “Wolf Named Crow”. The latter is another highlight, its bluesy boogie-metal shifting into a more atmospheric section replete with a complimentary solo and finishing with another walloping, Iommic riff.
Elsewhere, “Little Man” recalls mega-hit “Albatross” with its Southern charms and hard-driving chorus, and yet, it remains fresh and is less of a pastiche and more of a kindred spirit. The emerald riffs and harmonizing licks of “Forgive Me” soar like prime Lizzy, and despite its classic inspirations, this song still sounds very current. The remaining tracks take a gloomier turn, however. “Nothing Left to Say” is part slow-burning “Planet Caravan”-esque lament (perhaps a bit too on-the-nose) and part dark Americana stomp; “Old Disaster” is a roaring biker-rock jam in the vein of the best of Black Label Society; and “E.L.M.” and its trade-offs between Weatherman and Keenan hit heights Metallica wished they could have reached when they bastardized Corrosion of Conformity’s sound on Load and Reload—the vocals shaping around the imposing grooves, low and loud or high and soulful.
It’s clear that plenty of thought has been paid to the sequencing of this album, to make each subsequent movement compliment what precedes it. Sure, some nit-picking claims could be raised that the instrumental interludes between the aforementioned songs hamper the energy of the songs themselves, but the asides are constructed so well that the album’s overall flow would be impacted without them. Interestingly, the most foreboding song on the album, the title track, is devoid of crushing guitars and pounding drums. “No Cross No Crown” begins with what sounds like a thunderclap, and then the guitar line from “No Cross” reappears, the song built around its creepy refrain. Keenan’s vocals take a deep, droning turn, and the track’s choral aspects and overall arrangement hold plenty of tension, which is released during the abovementioned doomed-out finale that follows.
Because of its varied pacing, its composed shifting between light and darkness, and its wielding of the textural differences between both moods, No Cross No Cross plays out dynamically. It’s simple, sensible songwriting overall—which is not to say that every band is shrewd enough, or even capable enough, to adopt a similar approach to their craft. This is undoubtedly one of finest releases in Corrosion of Conformity’s storied career, a rejuvenating boost for a pioneering band who’ve existed in many forms since 1982. Hopefully, this album marks the beginning of another vital era for Corrosion of Conformity, coming at a time when most bands of their vintage get rolled out on the touring circuit as nothing more than bloated novelty acts or have disappeared altogether.